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Bioinspir Biomim. 2018 Feb 2;13(2):026005. doi: 10.1088/1748-3190/aaa2d0.

Body-terrain interaction affects large bump traversal of insects and legged robots.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, 3400‚ÄČN. Charles St, 126 Hackerman Hall, Baltimore, MD 21218-2683, United States of America.


Small animals and robots must often rapidly traverse large bump-like obstacles when moving through complex 3D terrains, during which, in addition to leg-ground contact, their body inevitably comes into physical contact with the obstacles. However, we know little about the performance limits of large bump traversal and how body-terrain interaction affects traversal. To address these, we challenged the discoid cockroach and an open-loop six-legged robot to dynamically run into a large bump of varying height to discover the maximal traversal performance, and studied how locomotor modes and traversal performance are affected by body-terrain interaction. Remarkably, during rapid running, both the animal and the robot were capable of dynamically traversing a bump much higher than its hip height (up to 4 times the hip height for the animal and 3 times for the robot, respectively) at traversal speeds typical of running, with decreasing traversal probability with increasing bump height. A stability analysis using a novel locomotion energy landscape model explained why traversal was more likely when the animal or robot approached the bump with a low initial body yaw and a high initial body pitch, and why deflection was more likely otherwise. Inspired by these principles, we demonstrated a novel control strategy of active body pitching that increased the robot's maximal traversable bump height by 75%. Our study is a major step in establishing the framework of locomotion energy landscapes to understand locomotion in complex 3D terrains.


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